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5 Steps to Build on Your Career in Civil Engineering

Workers looking down at a crane from a building under construction

If you’re a civil engineer, you’re probably very busy, and that’s likely to be the case for the foreseeable future.

As infrastructure such as bridges, roads, levees, dams and airports continue to age, and baby boomers retire, the job market should see high demand for civil engineers. In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, projects higher than average growth in civil engineering employment, with projected growth of 11 percent from 2016 to 2026. That’s one job added for every nine current workers.

What does all this mean for the average civil engineer?

Besides being slammed on a daily basis, it also means that your job market is extremely favorable. If you’re a working civil engineer, now’s a great time to explore your options and set yourself up to get what you want most out of a long career.

To find out how you can take full advantage, we asked Aerotek Account Managers Paul Weatherly and Matt Martin for advice. Their combined seven years of experience placing civil engineers gives them an in-depth understanding of the current job market.

Define your current role

The job market is as wide open for civil engineers as it’s ever been. Charting a path through it starts with a simple question: What are you doing now?

By defining your exact role on your current projects, you’ll be better prepared to secure the project types and developmental paths you’re most interested in pursuing.

“Say you’re on a project doing basic permitting or throwing markups and redlines on drawings,” says Weatherly. “Knowing that, and taking that information to employers, can help me put you on a more direct course to eventually stamp off on drawings or run projects if that’s what you want.”

Evaluate your skills profile

One reliable way to increase your salary and open up your options in the current market is to pursue opportunities that help you round out your skills profile.

According to Weatherly and Martin, the most sought-after civil engineers have a diversified skillset that includes experience with permitting, design work in Civil 3D, performing calculations and comfort working both in the office and the field. And, says Weatherly, “a structural background never hurts.”

If you see a blind spot in your skills profile, or notice a potentially interesting role or task you’ve never had an opportunity to experience, make note of it.

Track your certification progress

The difficult-to-obtain professional engineer (PE) classification is still the gold standard certification in civil engineering, and a major milestone toward increased wages. The certification also requires that engineers in training (EIT) document four years of apprenticeship under a currently certified PE just to qualify for the rigorous exam.

 

“Given the extreme scarcity of current PEs on the job market,” says Martin, “a lot of firms are looking more for EITs that they can coach, teach and groom to be the next PE or project manager over them long term.”

With the coming retirement of baby boomers, any opportunity for a current engineer in training to earn their requisite qualifying apprenticeship experience under a PE should be taken very seriously.

Think big picture

After defining your current status, the next step is planning how you’d like your career to unfold, and what you’d most prefer to be doing in the short, medium and long term.

“When I’m at my best as a partner for civil engineers,” says Martin, “it’s because I’ve taken the time to understand what each candidate wants between now and three to five years down the road. That’s when I can match candidates with their ideal position for advancement.”

Depending on your goals and interests, your next opportunity may:

  • Further specialize your experience in a project type that interests you most
  • Put you on a career path based on your preference of company type or industry
  • Advance your role within the projects you work on
  • Broaden your skills profile to make you an even more attractive job candidate who can command a higher salary
  • Help you advance toward a Professional Engineer license or other certification
  • Accomplish all of the above

Test the waters<

Since civil engineers are in such high demand, testing the waters of the job market can often feel like drinking from a fire hose.

“As somebody whose job it is to recruit on behalf of employers, I’m well aware that civil engineers are getting a thousand and one recruitment calls a day,” says Weatherly.

By following the above steps, however, you’ll be more able to quickly screen out the noise and focus on the right next step for you and your family.